After camping for 2 nights at Mammoth Cave, we headed east toward the Daniel Boone National Forest. We stopped at a public library to use the internet to get directions to a campsite, and were pleased to see that there were free campsites in the area. This is one of the great ideas from the Forest Service. Someone had the foresight to save public land through the federal government, meaning that everyone owns it and everyone can use it. Of course, working out how it’s used and by whom is an art in balance. There are rules of use intended to foster respect between different parties. There are hunting seasons, there are trails for ATVs and trails for hikers only. And there are shared trails, shared lands, shared campgrounds. Hopefully, we can negotiate and live side by side. Sometimes, that breaks down. We got to S-Tree campground and found that it is maintained in part by an ATV club and has many trails where motor-powered All Terrain Vehicles are permitted. There was no fee to camp there, and aside from two trailers in the campsite on the other hill across the forest road, we had the place to ourselves. We set up our tent across from the pit toilets, gathered firewood, and went into town for some groceries. The only thing on my list I couldn’t purchase was beer. I found out later that Kentucky has 40 “dry” counties and 49 “moist” counties in their total of 120 counties, meaning that the sale of alcohol is not permitted or is restricted in those counties. In other words, they still practice prohibition. That doesn’t mean that you don’t find Jack Daniels bottles and cans of Bud Light in the woods. Still, the weather was warm, only a little damp, and the place was quiet. The wind, the birds, the rustle of leaves on the ground and in the trees, the starlight and the slim sliver of moon were perfect companions.
We decided to do an extended hike on Friday, hedging our bets against an onslaught of weekend ATVers. We did encounter one group of 4 vehicles while we were resting beside a concrete creek crossing. We were following the Sheltowee Trace (a trail named after Daniel Boone’s native American nickname, meaning Big Turtle) for about 4 miles west along the Racoon Creek, and then planned to take an “unimproved” trail south through the woods, pick up a forest road there and loop back to the east. The “unimproved trail” was so covered in leaves that it was indistinguishable from an erosion gulley that went straight up to the top of the ridge. We ended up on top with no trail in sight. So we did some basic orienteering and blazed south, thinking we’d hit the forest road eventually, which we did, but not before I went through every survival scenario I could imagine. I was a Girl Scout for 12 years and a leader for 3, so I have practical skills. Steve has no sense of direction at all, but he also has no anxieties. Together we actually make a reasonable and happy pair of adventurers. By the time we got back to camp and started a fire for supper, we were pretty pleased with ourselves and pleased with Kentucky. We planned to stay one more night and then make camp in a different area of the Forest to hike up the Rockcastle Narrows. While we sat at the picnic table, we saw an SUV hauling a trailer and a pickup truck following it up the campsite road. The road was narrow and gutted, so the guy in the trailer had his wife get out of the pickup and help him navigate. They managed to pull past our site and set up about 100 feet away in another slot. Then they left in the pickup. So, we had company, but on a Friday night, that was not unusual. They looked like an older couple and hadn’t any ATVs with them, so we figured they would be good neighbors. They returned at about 8pm while we were snuggled up in the tent talking. A little while later, we heard the noise of a generator coming from their site. It was impossible to ignore it. It droned on and on. Quiet hours in the National Forest are posted for 10pm – 6am. We figured they were running their generator for a few hours before turning in. But maybe not. At 9pm, Steve decided he would go over and ask them how long they intended to keep the machine running, as we were trying to sleep. The old man was in his pajamas; he said he planned to run the thing all night “for heat”. Steve tried to suggest that went against the rules for quiet hours, but the man said that he’d never had an issue before and that we could simply move. Steve is calm and gentle and polite, so he came back to the tent to discuss the situation with me. We both felt bullied by the man’s refusal to negotiate, and we decided to pack up and head out. We pulled out at 10pm and waved to the man as we left. He was standing outside his trailer in his nightclothes. (How cold was it, then?)
So, we learned some more about Kentucky. Finding a hotel room along the Interstate on a Friday night is not easy. In London, they were booked up due to a Civil War Reenactment event. In Richmond, they were booked up for a University football game. Finally, in Lexington, we found a “smoking Queen” available. It was 1 a.m. The next installment will tell you how we made up for our disappointment. Here are some photos: